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Assistant treasurer racks up AU$2,000-a-month internet bill footed by taxpayers

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(Image: Chris Duckett/ZDNet)

Gaffe-prone Australian Assistant Treasurer Stuart Robert is being scrutinised again after charging taxpayers more than AU$2,000 a month for his home internet bills.

Robert was only returned to the federal frontbench a few weeks ago, after he was sacked in 2016 over a trip to China for a mining company he was financially linked with.

But now, the federal government is scrutinising his AU$90-a-day home internet bills, which are dramatically higher than those of all other MPs.

“I’ve asked the special minister of state to report back to me,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Tasmania on Friday.

“Once I’ve heard from the special minister of state, then we’ll take the next step.

“I think [voters would] want an explanation, and that’s why I’ve asked for one.”

Robert’s May bill alone totalled AU$2,832, while the vast majority of other MPs spent under AU$300 a month, and most about AU$100 a month.

Parliamentary expense records in the three months to May show Robert spent more than AU$2,000 a month on average for his Gold Coast residence.

The Queensland Liberal MP told Fairfax Media that connectivity issues were responsible for the high charges, because he had to use a wireless service as cheaper connections were unavailable when the service was installed.

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Your tax dollars at work

“I went and checked my most recent reports; it’s about AU$100 a month,” Labor leader Bill Shorten told reporters in Melbourne.

“There is no doubt that Stuart Robert is a very controversial figure, and that controversy seems to follow him.”

Robert last week confused debt and deficit in a TV interview, and was caught taking a selfie when the interview began.

Labor MP Graham Perrett, who pays less than AU$100 for an unlimited internet deal, said it’s “bizarre” that the assistant treasurer can’t do better.

“Any normal person would be making a call to their internet provider to work out what’s going on,” he told Sky News on Friday.

The assistant treasurer said he racked up a high bill in May because he used 300 gigabytes of data, so he had to pay for extra data after exceeding his 50GB limit.

Robert has been charging taxpayers more than AU$1,000 per month for data at his home since 2016.

“My family home is located a significant distance from the telephone exchange, resulting in poor broadband internet connectivity,” Robert said in a statement late on Friday afternoon.

“At the time, a 4G home Wi-Fi internet connection was the only way to receive reliable and stable internet access

“My internet, like many in semi-rural areas, was previously unreliable, which interfered with my ability to perform my parliamentary and ministerial duties.”

The NBN’s rollout map shows building has begun in the Gold Coast, where the assistant treasurer’s electoral office and postal address is located.

Robert confirmed that he has an NBN installation appointment booked.

“When installed, this will result in an immediate drop in costs to a level similar to other parliamentarians.”

The treatment of Robert has contrasted sharply with the attitude of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who in 2014, when he was Communications Minister and had responsibility for the National Broadband Network, famously roused on a member of the public who complained about a lack of fixed-line broadband.

“Just curious:- if connectivity was so vital to you why did you buy a house where there was no broadband available?” Turnbull tweeted at the time.

Speaking in June 2016, disgraced former Deputy Prime Minsiter Barnaby Joyce claimed that internet speeds of 25Mbps were good enough for Australians living in regional and remote parts of the nation.

A week earlier, then Industry, Innovation and Science Minister Christopher Pyne mirrored the same sentiment.

“They simply didn’t need the speeds that Labor was promising,” Pyne said at the time.

This week, NBN revealed that more than 1,500 of its fixed-wireless cells had at least one service downloading more than 1TB of data during the month of May.

Despite this, NBN said in response to a Senate Estimates Question on Notice that it had forecast to have less than 1.4 percent of fixed-wireless users on the 100/40Mbps speed tier by 2022, before the company ripped up plans to offer such services.

As the national broadband wholesaler looks to end its discount at the end of this month that attempted to move users from lower speeds up to 50Mbps plans, retailer Aussie Broadband told ZDNet that ISPs will need to choose between offering high- or low-speed tiers, as they won’t be able to do both.

“Aussie has chosen to play in the higher end of the market using the new bundled offering exclusively, as it provides sufficient CVC capacity to ensure a good experience for customers,” Aussie Broadband MD Phillip Britt told ZDNet on Thursday.

“In our view, it will not be possible for providers offering a service under AU$55 a month floor price and an unlimited offering under AU$69 using the bundles.

“Providers below this price point will most likely be short-changing their customers on the CVC bandwidth provisioned.”

With AAP

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Waymo recreated fatal crashes putting its software at the wheel – Here’s how it did

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Waymo is tackling the safety issue of autonomous vehicles head-on, using simulations to replay fatal crashes but replacing the human driver involved with the Alphabet company’s software, to show what the Waymo Driver would’ve done differently. The research looked at every fatal accident recorded in Chandler, Arizona – where the Waymo One driverless car-hailing service currently operates – between 2008 and 2017.

“We excluded crashes that didn’t match situations that the Waymo Driver would face in the real world today, such as when crashes occurred outside of our current operating domain,” Trent Victor, Director of Safety Research and Best Practices at Waymo, explains. “Then, the data was used to carefully reconstruct each crash using best-practice methods. Once we had the reconstructions, we simulated how the Waymo Driver might have performed in each scenario.”

In total, there were 72 different simulations that the system needed to handle. In those where there were two cars involved, Waymo modeled each in two ways. First, where the Waymo Driver was in control of the “initiator” vehicle, which initiated the crash, and then again with it as the “responder” vehicle, which responds to the initiator’s actions. That took the total to 91 simulations.

The Waymo Driver avoided every crash as initiator – a total of 52 simulations – Waymo says. That was mainly down to the computer following the rules of the road that human drivers in the actual crashes did not, such as avoiding speeding, maintaining a gap with other traffic, and not running through red lights or failing to yield appropriately.

On the flip side, where the Waymo Driver was the responder, it managed to avoid 82-percent of the crashes in the simulations. According to Waymo’s Victor, “in the vast majority of events, it did so with smooth, consistent driving – without the need to brake hard or make an urgent evasive response.”

In a further 10-percent of the simulations, the Waymo Driver was able to take action to mitigate the crash’s severity. There, the driver was 1.3-15x less likely to sustain a serious injury, Waymo calculates.

Finally, in the remaining 8-percent of crashes simulated, the Waymo Driver was unable to mitigate or avoid the impact. They were all situations where a human-operated vehicle struck the back of a Waymo vehicle that was stationary or moving at a constant speed, this “giving the Waymo Driver little opportunity to respond,” Victor explains.

That is equally important, Waymo argues, because when they finally launch in any significant number, autonomous vehicles are going to have to coexist with human drivers on the road for some time to come. Those human drivers can’t be counted on to follow the same rules as stringently as Waymo’s software demands.

Waymo has released a paper, detailing its findings. Part of the challenge for assessing autonomous vehicles, it argues, is that high-severity collisions are thankfully relatively rare in the real world. As such, “evaluating effectiveness in these scenarios through public road driving alone is not practical given the gradual nature of ADS deployments.”

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2022 Genesis G70 Launch Edition previews sport sedan refresh

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Genesis has revealed the new 2022 G70 Launch Edition, the first of the refreshed versions of its compact sports sedan to land in the US, looking handsome with the automaker’s striking new design language. Announced last October, Genesis’ smallest sedan will debut initially in the form of the limited-production 2022 G70 Launch Edition, with only 500 expected to be offered.

Where the old G70 had a squared-off fascia, this updated version is a lot softer in its angles. The bottom edge of the oversized shield-shaped front grille now comes to a point in the lower fascia, rather than being flat, while that lower grille section is more muscular and contoured.

It’s the headlamps, though, which are the biggest departure. They get Genesis’ new signature quad-LED element, with dual horizontal daytime running lamp lines on each side. It’s something we’ve seen the automaker put to good use on its larger sedans, and on SUVs like the new GV80.

Genesis says the new G70 is lower and wider at the front end, while the profile of the sedan is sharper, too. At the rear, the trunk lid has been smoothed out, with a more distinctive integrated spoiler. The taillamp clusters, meanwhile, have a more angular appearance, echoing the quad LED light signature at the front. Altogether it looks tidier and more focused than the outgoing car.

Inside, meanwhile, the changes are more subtle. The dashboard shape in general has been carried over, with dedicated HVAC control knobs, a physical transmission shifter, and a multifunction steering wheel. However there’s now a new 10.25-inch HD display atop the dashboard, replacing the old 8-inch version.

That gets the graphics from Genesis’ more recent models, a huge improvement compared to the Hyundai-donated software UI in the last-gen G70. There’s both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the driver gets an 8-inch HD digital gauge cluster flanked by analog dials.

As for what’s under the hood, don’t expect a departure from the existing engines. That includes the optional 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6, with 365 horsepower. The entry engine is a carry-over of the 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4, with 252 horsepower. An 8-speed automatic is likely to be standard; the six-speed manual gearbox Genesis once offered won’t be making an appearance.

Genesis will keep the options simple for the Launch Edition: it’ll only offer the sedan in Verbier White or Melbourne Grey matte paint. 19-inch black wheels will be standard, as will a red leather interior. Although you’ll be able to pick RWD or AWD, the G70 Launch Edition will only be offered with the more potent V6 engine, Car & Driver reports.

Pricing is yet to be confirmed, though the current G70 starts at just north of $37k. Reservations for the Launch Edition are open now, with the first cars set to arrive in the US come the spring.

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GMC Hummer EV SUV reveal dated: Watch the electric pickup go sideways on ice

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GMC will reveal its second Hummer EV variant in just a few weeks time, with the SUV version of the all-electric super truck promising an alternative body-style to the original pickup. The GMC Hummer EV SUV will be unveiled on April 3, the automaker confirmed today, though this isn’t the first time we’ve heard about the new version.

Back in July 2020, in fact, GMC teased what we could expect from the SUV body. As you might expect, it’s the same bold lines and chunky styling from the front back to roughly the C-pillars.

However unlike the pickup’s roughly 5 foot long bed, the SUV will have an enclosed cargo area. That will allow for a spare wheel to be mounted on the tailgate. We’re still expecting to see removable roof panels, allowing most of the top of the electric truck to be opened up, though final cargo capacity will have to wait until the official reveal.

As for what’s underneath the sheet metal, there we’re unlikely to see GMC straying too far from the architecture of the Hummer EV pickup. Based on GM’s Ultium platform for electric vehicles, that includes up to three motors and 1,000 horsepower in total, depending on trim. Torque vectoring – where power is individually controlled in its delivery to each rear wheel – and a “CrabWalk” mode that allows the trunk to track diagonally at low speeds in off-road or tight parking lot conditions are also supported.

0-60 mph should come in around 3 seconds for the most potent Hummer EV, GMC has said, while range will be up to around 350 miles on a charge. 800V DC fast charging with support for up to 350 kW should mean 100 miles of range added in just 10 minutes.

While GMC is launching the pickup version with the limited-availability 2022 Hummer EV Edition 1 first, it has more affordable versions planned for 2022 and beyond. That’s likely to be the same strategy the automaker takes with the electric SUV, with premium pricing and a heavily constrained supply to begin with. Reservations for the SUV will open on April 3, GMC has said.

As for progress on the electric pickup, GMC says it has been undertaking winter testing in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, making ample use of the snow and ice to see how the all-wheel drive holds up. That also includes testing of the electronic stability control and traction control.

Production of the 2022 Hummer EV pickup is expected to begin in the fall, GMC says, with initial deliveries before the end of the year.

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